Uncle John Robertson

On 18 March 1870, Father's great-uncle John married Charlotte Fossett and moved into 24 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Cheyne Walk has always been a place where the rich and famous live - writers George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Henry James, artists Rosetti and Whistler, Swinburne the poet, the Brunels, father and son, the great reformer and wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Mick Jagger lived at 48, Keith Richard at number 3, JMW Turner died at number 119 in 1851. So, why was Uncle John, a house-painter and decorator living amongst them?

Charlotte's life before great-uncle John

Charlotte Fossett was born Charlotte Smith on 10 February 1845 in Lambeth, London, another daughter for Samuel and Ellen Smith. We next find her at the age of six living with her parents and 5 brothers and sisters at 127 Duke Street, Liverpool. Her father and some of the family were tailors and this could provide a clue for what became of Charlotte. The family returned to London and lived in Marylebone Street, St James's, Westminster. Charlotte and her mother were described in the 1861 census as "having no profession." On 4 May 1862, aged 17, she married Charles Fossett, a 55 year old master tailor.

24 Cheyne Walk

24 Cheyne Walk

Charles was a widower with children by his first wife and he and Charlotte had a son William, born a few months before they married. At the time of his marriage, Charles was living in Regent's Park but he retired two years later and moved to 24 Cheyne Walk with his young bride. His retirement and the dissolution of his tailoring partnership at about the same time, may have been due to ill-health; he was to die two years later of a malignant tumour on his liver.

The terms of his will entrusted Charlotte with the care of the children of his first marriage, although most were adults by this time. The income from his estate came to her with the proviso that if she should marry, her income from the estate would drop by two thirds. A little over 3 years later, on 18 March 1870, already pregnant, she married great-uncle John Tannahill Robertson.

John and Charlotte

At the time of the 1871 census, John was 36 years old, Charlotte was 26 and their baby son Albert Alfred was 8 months. Living with them in Chelsea was John's mother, Jeanie Tannahill Robertson aged 63. Charlotte had given up a large part of her income to marry an unemployed decorator - but this was not to be the romantic story it may seem. She and John separated sometime between the birth of their next son in 1872, called John Tannahill Robertson after his father, and the birth of Montague Hollingham Robertson in 1875. Maybe Charlotte and Jeanie didn't get on!

Charlotte Hollingham Robertson

Young Charlotte

The clue is in the baby's name. Charlotte probably lived with the recently widowed George Hollingham for the rest of her short life and had at least 2 more children with him, Charlotte, born 1878 and James who died in infancy in 1887. Both had Hollingham as a middle name. Charlotte kept the Robertson name and a legal separation is mentioned in her will.

In 1887, George Hollingham had to inform the authorities of Charlotte's death. She had been living with him in Farringdon Street in the City. After 5 days illness, she died of acute bronchitis, a week after the birth of a son. Charlotte's sister Ellen reported the death of James, a premature baby, at the age of 21 days. The cause was "want of assimilation of food"; his mother had died two weeks earlier.


Great-uncle John?

Upper Church StJohn moved to Brighton with his mother Jeanie and his son John; Albert Alfred stayed with Charlotte. Jeanie died in Upper Church Street, possibly at a lodging house, (see right), and was buried at the Extra-mural Cemetery in Brighton in 1877. John returned to London with his son and seems to have spent the remainder of his life working as a decorator. He lived in the poor areas of Marylebone and Kensington and died at the age of 71 of senile decay in the Kensington Workhouse Infirmary, a hospital for the poor.

George Hollingham?

He married again shortly after the death of Charlotte.

And...

  • Why did five year-old Montague Hollingham Robertson live in Gwinear, Cornwall as a boarder in 1881? Was he sickly and needing to get away from the London smogs? Whatever the reason, a year after his mother died he entered a home for destitute boys in London and then emigrated to Canada, in the care of the same home, James Fegan's, in Toronto. He became a farmer and married twice.

  • Doctor James Fernandez Clarke attended Charles Fossett when he was ill, became a trustee of his will and either he or his son witnessed Charlotte's marriage to John. This doctor has a further claim to a footnote in history. As the young Queen Victoria and husband Albert were driving in their carriage on Constitution Hill in July 1840, a man fired shots at them in an assassination attempt. The attacker was Edward Oxford who was found to be insane; one of the witnesses was Dr James Fernandez Clarke. This case has been described as 'a key moment in the development of the medical expert witness.' It almost certainly saved Oxford from the scaffold. He was sent to Bedlam and later to Broadmoor from whence he was released provided he went to Australia!

  • We have a picture - the child holding the reins of the wooden horse - which is possibly Charlotte's daughter, Charlotte Hollingham Robertson. But, we can't prove it. The photograph was taken by Lombardi in London, the same firm who took the photograph of great-uncle John in Brighton.

  • Charlotte's will says, 'I give to William Fossett, my son by my first husband, Charles Fossett deceased, the portraits in oil of his late father and myself.' Do they still exist?

  • Kensington St Mary'sJohn Robertson's last census entry in 1901 shows him living in Rackham Street in Kensington, close to the St Marylebone's Rackham Street Infirmary. Although he could see it from his front door, he could not have been taken in here if he fell ill; it belonged to another Poor Law Union. John's death certificate states that he died in Kensington Infirmary but that he was "from 35 Bangor Street". I wondered whether this could be a polite address used instead of the name of a workhouse. Working on this idea, we researched the workhouse system a little further Kensington St Mary's and found that Bangor Street (now Henry Dickens Court), was very close to the rather unpleasant branch of the Kensington workhouse known as Mary's Place. If Bangor Street were a polite form of the workhouse address, this would imply that he entered the workhouse, was taken ill and transferred to the Infirmary, where he died. This was St Mary Abbots Hospital, run by the Kensington Poor Law Guardians in Marloes Road. We need to research further, possibly looking for traces of him in the workhouse records.

  • It's often very difficult to identify people in old photographs but we're occasionally lucky. At the top of the photograph is Great-uncle John Robertson, probably written by one of my aunts. This started us on the history trail which eventually led to Charlotte's Smith's story.

  • Much of the research into Charlotte Smith is the work of Alex Robertson; in fact, this page could not have been written without him!